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10/10
Entertaining and Thought-Provoking.
the-evil-cult15 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Of the 250+ films I've seen and rated on IMDb, only one other (Schindler's List) is as good as American Beauty. A film like this not only entertains while you're in the theater but also drops subtle questions in your head about the nature of human behavior and the gulf between fantasy and reality. After watching this movie, viewers will think long and hard about their own lives as well as the lives of people around them. The movie spells out the social disillusionment phenomenon everyone experiences but can't really grasp.

American Beauty reminds us that, like Lester, we really have no idea what we really want. We're not rational creatures as economists assume we are. Our instinct might lead us to perform one action, yet our brains might tell us to perform the complete opposite. We may lust after material belongings, yet how do we know we will still treasure those material belongings once we obtain them? Lester may lust after Angela, yet once he feels her in his hands and finds out the truth about her sexuality, an entirely different feeling comes over him.

Ricky Fits, the drug-dealing boy next door, is able to look beyond conventional notions of attractiveness and find beauty in non-promiscuous, solemn girls as well as in plastic bags floating in the wind. When many criticize the movie, they say, "Where's the beauty in a plastic bag?" And that's the point. We live in a world of aesthetic subjectivism. What one person finds attractive, another may find repulsive, yet the urge is there for people to assume aesthetic absolutism. "It's just a plastic bag! How can there be beauty in it?" Well, a human being is just an aggregation of tissues, bones, and blood. How is that attractive? It depends on how you look at it. Reality is shaped by perspective.

Some people criticize the Ricky Fits character because he records his life experiences on tape and doesn't actually experience them. But time moves inexorably in one direction. Time cannot be stopped. In a physical sense the past and the future don't exist. We are only conscious in the present. Everything we do, everything we achieve, every bit of happiness we experience -- they are all eventually buried in the past by time. Recording subjective beauty is a means by which one can attempt to salvage beauty from the past into the present because time eventually destroys all beauty. If you don't believe me, walk into a pre-school and then walk into a nursing home. Remember that all the old men and women in the nursing home were once little kids.

Another profound element of American Beauty is in the tag line: look closer. An individual's behavior is not independent of his environment. Humans are conformists by nature, and humans will modify their behavior to assimilate into existing social categories. If any individual dares to stray from the category to which he has been assigned, he is shouted down and ostracized. No one can resist the urge to conform, so why bother? Everyone is nice in public, yet on the streets they blare their horns, scream, and swear. Some boys I know pretend to hate American Beauty because on the surface it seems like a "chick flick." They force themselves to watch gory horror movies and show off to others how they can stomach intense violence and excessive sex scenes. In American Beauty, Angela acts like a total slut, as many girls seem to be nowadays. In the end, however, she is not what she makes herself out to be. Colonel Fits tries to act like such a man, yet in the end it's all just a giant facade. Civilization is but one giant movie, and members of society must start acting their parts if they want to belong to this civilization. Otherwise, they're outsiders. Try walking into a job interview without a tie. You'll be thrown out. That is the power of convention.

What if I asked you this question: What do you want in life? Most people would say, "happiness." But is happiness worth deluding yourself for? Carolyn Burnham shields herself from sadness by adopting a positive-thinking philosophy, a philosophy of self-affirming mantras and harsh self-discipline. Positive thinking may help you attain your goals, but positive thinking also blinds you from reality. Is it wise or moral to change the channel when you hear about mass starvation in Africa so you can enjoy moments of fleeting happiness from a cheap romance movie? Self-help is just a euphemism for self-deception. All humans need some complex fraud to distract them from the harsh and nihilistic realities of life, whether it's religion, money, or even love.

In spite of American Beauty's greatness, there are problems. Characters are stereotypical, but viewers will hardly notice unless they're ultra-critical. Anyway, exaggeration is essential in satire so that certain points are made obvious to viewers. Furthermore, Alan Ball's original screenplay is slightly edited. The ending is more optimistic.

Problems aside, Sam Mende's debut movie is one of the greatest I've seen. Not only is it entertaining but it is also filled with interesting ideas. It's an important film for society because there's so much society needs to learn. One boy I knew refused to watch American Beauty because, as he said, "I'm not gonna watch a movie with a name like that!"

Look closer.

10/10
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10/10
An Oscar well deserved.
RueMorgue29 May 2000
This film is one of a kind. After seeing this film last week, I was left with a hole in the pit of my stomach. It left many questions in my mind, and most of them cannot be answered. In my view, a film that makes me think after I watch it is second-to-none, and this film certainly delivers in that aspect.

I was amazed with the vivid imagery in this movie, as well as with the symbolism. However, what makes this film the best of 1999 is the acting. Kevin Spacey shines as Lester Burnham, and Annette Bening (Carolyn Burnham) isn't far behind. Supporting cast members such as Wes Bentley (Ricky Fitts), Thora Birch (Jane Burnham), Mena Suvari (Angela Hayes), and Chris Cooper (Col. Frank Fitts) only add to the drama of this film. I think the most special aspect of this film is how all of the characters intertwine in a way that is believable, yet fantastic at the same time. I congratulate Sam Mendes for his direction of this film, as well as Alan Ball for writing it. I don't think it could have been any better.

Rated R in the U.S. for strong sexuality, language, drug content, and violence, the film obviously deserves its rating. However, none of the causes for the R rating are overbearing, and all of them add to the plot-line of this film. While I don't think that this is a film for children, I would suggest that adults should view it with an open mind. I believe that the traits which many of the characters in this film have are found in many people around the world. Perhaps that is why this film hits close to home for so many viewers.

While billed by some as a "comedy-drama", I don't see anything about this film as funny. Sure, there are some comedic moments, but by the end, those moments were all but forgotten when faced with the grim reality of the conclusion of the events portrayed in this film.

If you want to watch a light-hearted film with some elements of comedy and some elements of drama, don't see American Beauty. But if you enjoy films that make you think, and are entertained by an excellent cast, excellent directing, and an excellent screenplay, this film should be at the top of your list.

My Rating: 10/10
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10/10
A deep, wonderful, penetrating film; extraordinary irony in a psychological drama about the American life.
SD-422 March 2000
I have come to see the movie with a certain prejudice. Everyone saying that it was so wonderful, so touching, so excited -- I usually tend to go with movies that nobody likes. Nevertheless, this one was a certain exception.

It is a wonderful psychological drama, a satire about the American community and about the American life; dark, painful irony and cynicism in the descriptions of life and characters; deep sarcasm on types of people in the community, habits of behaviour such as "...if you want to succeed, you always have to seem successful..." or "never stop smiling", parasites of the community, and, most importantly, the treatment of people who are "different", who are "freaky" to some extent; and eventually, there is no character in the film that is not odd in its way, although we have to wait for the very ending of the film, to discover this.

With very deep and accurate exaggeration, (most of) the characters in the movie demonstrate the worst, the darkest sides of their personality, while still remaining very human, very touching and very involving the observer. Everyone can find a certain similarity with characters and persons who he met in his life, in the characters described in the film. The tragi-comical events, the little pieces of funny, disturbing irony dripping from almost every episode, lead the observer to exploration of the American Beauty -- the beauty in life, and the way that we fail to find it, for all our life; the way we hide our feelings and emotions, even behind sullen walls of our sepulchre.

The acting is truly brilliant, the episodes are built logically, coherently, the dialogues are deep, thrilling, intriguing; every sentence and every word is deeply constructed, containing profound irony and intelligent elements of humors. The plot is very intelligently built, constructing a true indication of the sad situation of the American society, and an excellent ground for the actors.

An amazing movie, strongly recommended. 10/10
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10/10
A little masterpiece...
ryan_lynch26 February 2000
"American Beauty" is tour de force cinema. Sam Mendes' brilliant debut feature depicts a web of characters who yearn for their own 'American Dream' - yet, in the end, only one character truly attains it.

Having seen "Happiness" only recently, I could not help but draw comparisons: both films centre around a microcosm of society in which the people, in their own unique way, all strive to be successful or simply 'happy'. But here the similarities end: the characters in "Happiness" undergo a self-realisation process through which they become increasingly aware of their meaningless existence, and go on to wallow in their own depravity. "Happiness" shows no signs of redemption; whereas in "American Beauty" the audience is offered a sense of hope, of salvation, though the characters must endure a similar fate, or more accurately, they must endure the way of life in which they are trapped.

The pivotal character upon which this theme centres, is the father Lester, played impeccably by Kevin Spacey. He is presented to us as a bit of a loser who plays the subjugated figure in the home and at work. He appears resigned to an unhappy life in which he is treated badly by his wife and daughter and his boss at work. Seemingly beyond redemption, Lester transforms from being a loser.

Mendes portrays this transformation admirably well: he shows Lester on his 'path to enlightenment' pushed up against a grim background of suburbanite existence. These early scenes are well balanced, forming a steady rhythm of TV commercial-like vignettes which prove very comical, if at times unsettling. As Lester reflects in the film: "My life is like a commercial". And how this rings true: like in "Happiness", all the characters hide underneath this veneer of normality and respectability, yet they are all revealed to be nothing but the opposite: depressed, depraved and desperate.

Lester's wife, played by Annette Benning, is the most success-driven character in the story which renders her the most hopeless in the film's tone of moral conviction. "In order to be successful in life one must project the appearance of success" is the maxim she adopts from the 'king' of real estate, Buddy King. It is a phrase which resonates throughout the film: for Benning's pawn, life is all about keeping-up appearances. This is where Lester differs from her: his emancipation is enabled by him discarding the constraints of 'normal life' and following what his heart desires.

Lester is the catalyst in this narrative in which the ancillary characters either follow suit (as does his daughter and Ricky) or pay the price (as does his wife and the Colonel). The irony inherent in this film, and it grows with resonance as the film draws to a conclusion, is that the only character who truly becomes free must sacrifice everything in order to achieve it. Yet it is through his sacrifice that he is able to afford the surviving characters a glimpse of hope in life.

This film left me gasping for air: its hyper-realism conveys, at the same time, a portrait of the suburban comedy, a jolting-shock of realisation, and a cathartic sense of hope. Mendes depicts a certain people who, to varying degrees, all strive for a certain 'American Dream', yet so few actually attain it. Though whilst one may have difficulty with tagging this film with the 'feel good' label, the beauty of "American Beauty" is that it sits half-way between a desperate cry for help and a reassuring sense of happiness and fulfilment and that is cinema at its best.
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10/10
Beautiful...so beautiful
Antithesys9 September 2000
Warning: Spoilers
American Beauty is the greatest movie ever made.

If you haven't already, watch American Beauty by yourself and give yourself some time afterwards to think it over. You will never, ever look at life the same way. It does exactly what movies are meant to do - give us a window into ourselves, and American Beauty does that better than any other film has ever done. No word of dialogue is unnecessary, no character exaggerated, everything is perfect...but if you have seen American Beauty you should know that already. Once you look closer at this movie, and see Beauty in every frame, it becomes so much easier to look closer and see Beauty in everything around you. You think I'm waxing poetic? Then you must not have seen the movie. Every character is a part of each of us: the Lester Burnham of change, the Carolyn of uncertainty and failure, the rebellion of Jane, the defeated Barbara, the false control of Angela and the Colonel, and the real control of Ricky. To me Ricky, not Lester, is the center of this story; he somehow controls or sets in motion the heart of Lester's rebirth and downfall. There are several parts of this movie where I lose control every time I see it, and none more so than the paper bag scene. To me that scene is simply the greatest monologue ever written.

I listened to the message of American Beauty - look closely and you can find Beauty in anything - and it changed my life. I rose out of a long, deep depression and started out into the world. Sometimes there is so much Beauty in the world, I can't even stand it, and it feels like my heart is going to burst.

This is the most beautiful movie I have ever seen.
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10/10
a very well done film that continues to amaze me...
reesew187 July 2001
When I first saw this movie in theaters, I found it to be very funny. When I rented it at home, I found it to be very sad and complex. Looking at it now, I realize that it is surely one of the most extraordinary films ever to come out of Hollywood. To some it may look trite or cliched, or maybe too un-ordinary to be worthy of its praise, but the overall impact of this film is extremely powerful. After you've seen it, you know you've seen something.

A few notable elements stand out. The direction is superb; this is visually a superior film, for the director understands the subtle changes in tone. The writing is equally compelling; the story effortlessly interweaves multiple stories to create one amazing movie. The haunting music is also notable. Lastly is the acting. Kevin Spacey has done excellent films before, and he can add this one to the list. He may be a little to witty to suggest the overshadowed character he portrays, but he simply disappears into the role. Annette Bening is also fine; a less strong role, but she is magnificent none the less. As the teenagers, Thora Birch is able to mesmerize us with one intense look; her "typical teenager" role is fleshed out completely. I enjoyed Mena Suvari's character equally. It seemed that she did not receive as much acclaim, but her performance evokes both innocence and experience, and her scenes toward the end give her a depth unlike any other character. And Wes Bentley, as the video-taping boy next door, is easily the most original character. At first he seems a little tense, but, like Spacey, he sinks into the role. His "purpose" in the film, unlike anyone else's, is a mystery, thus making him the most enigmatic person.

Most films are able to make a lasting impression on its audience, but never has a movie been known to "move" its viewers as much as this movie. It truly says something about life, no matter how predictable or tacky it appears, this film disturbingly shows us how to appreciate our individual lives, so therefore, when they are over, we each have something to remember.
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10/10
Beautiful...
Philip_Pugh29 November 2003
Probably the best film of 1999. This dark comedy drama marks two fantastic feature film debuts with Alan Ball as writer and Sam Mendes as director (both winning oscars for their sterling efforts).

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man on the brink of a mid-life crisis, who suddenly becomes obsessed with one of his teenage daughters friends played by Mena Suvari. His daughter (Thora Birch) is, as Lester tells us; "a typical teenager. Angry, insecure, confused...". And his wife Caroline (Annette Bening) has an obsession of her own, her public appearance.

Life starts off on a downer for the Burnhams and their new neighbours the Fitts despite their lives looking good from the outside.

As life begins to improve (with most of the main characters finding what they think is love or new relationships) it soon all comes crashing down in the climactic final day.

The writing is nothing short of brilliant and made even more amazing by knowing that it comes from a first time feature film screen writer Alan Ball (who had had years of prior experience writing TV sitcoms - not that you'd be able to guess from the tone of this film).

The directing is on a par with the writing and Sam Mendes manages to get some brilliant performances from the great cast, who are all faultless. No doubt Mendes' theatre directing past played a huge part in directing the actors so well.

Another person worthy of a mention is the late director of photography Conrad L. Hall, another one of the five oscar recipients for this film.

All the elements in this film gel perfectly together to make one superb masterpiece. Not one person, either cast or crew, steals this film or does anymore than anyone else to make this film what it is. Truly an ensemble effort. 10/10.
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10/10
One of my faves of the year...simply great.
The Woof5 November 1999
This movie was a joy to watch. I didn't know what to expect when I came into it. I had heard the buzz of the acting and the story, etc...but we've all heard that before and had been disappointed, but not so with this one.

Kevin Spacey plays this part to a "T". He is strong when it requires and meek when it is needed. His emotional rollercoaster ride is a trip to partake in. Annette Bening is marvelous as well. I think they both should be nominated.

The support cast is also spectacular. Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari all give great performances as the troubled "Teenagers" in the film. Of particular mention is Wes Bentley's performance, worthy of a supporting nomination as well.

This is a dramatic and funny tale of a man and his life in a state of turmoil and transition. When he happens to see a beautiful friend of his daughter's at a cheerleading exhibition, he is completely infatuated with her beauty. Using this as his inspiration, he attempts to change all aspects of his life. He confronts his marriage, his job, his ego, and his libido.

The music in this film is also very well chosen. There are moments when the music fits so perfectly with the scene that they meld together as one to present a perfect emotion.

The plot can get rather involved, but you will follow it endlessly to see where you go. I was simply involved, hook, line and sinker.

See this movie more than once, and skip some of the other movies out now that are dare I say, trash.

This should be on the top of many critic's lists this year and it is certainly on top of mine.

My Rating (1 - 10): 10
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10/10
Far and away the best film of the year
bootsy-414 December 1999
What can I say, except that this film really knocked me on my keaster. I went in to the theater not knowing what to expect, but was pretty sure it would be worth the ticket price. Boy was I happy when I left. Not only was it worth the ticket, I paid to see this film two more times. This film is virtually perfect. The acting is superb, the story is magnificent, the narrative is brilliant, and the structure of the film is truly groundbreaking (absolutely loved the last 20 minutes). What really surprised me about this film was how well the cinematography was done. In a small, character driven film such as this, it is very unusual to have such great cinematography. With this film, there is something interesting going on in every scene, not many films you can say that about. In a year where first time directors have made some of the best films, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, etc... Sam Mendes seems to have out-done them all. Though I have yet to see The Green Mile or Magnolia, I find it hard to believe that either film will out-shine American Beauty. This film should easily win a substantial amount of the Oscars this year. What's up with all the cirtics awards snubbing it so far?
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10/10
An American Masterpiece
Smells_Like_Cheese14 August 2001
This is by far one of the best, if not THE, movies of the 90's. "American Beauty" stole my vote immediately as I started watching it. The idea and concept of "American Beauty" is just some ordinary people on an ordinary block with ordinary lives.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnam, a middle aged married man who has lost some hope in life. He has a job that is degrading, a wife who refuses to show any type of loving emotion towards him, a daughter who practically hates herself, and is judged constantly as a looser. But all of a sudden, he sees his daughter's friend, Angela, and something snaps in him to do something with his life. He quits his job and takes, the dreaded by most Americans, a fast food cook job. He starts working out and doing some illegal substances. Even though this sounds like he is ruining his life, it actually helps him and makes him realize how much he loves "the precious moments in his stupid little life." You have no idea what he is talking about I'm sure, but don't worry, you will some day. Kevin Spacey was by far the best actor in 1999 and deserved this Oscar 100%.

Annete Benning plays Carol Burnam, Lester's wife. She is a very fake and unsuccessful real estate agent who cannot get a sale. Her image in life is "in order to be successful, one most project an image of success at all times". You can tell, she is not happy with her marriage and starts to have an affair with the big boss of the real estate company. Again, seems horrible, but it helps her in the end. Annete was unfortunately robbed of an Oscar for this film.

The supporting cast: Thora Birtch who plays Janie, Lester and Carol's daughter, is extremely depressed and hates her body and herself. But when she notices a strange boy next door and develops a relationship with him, she realizes how precious life is and starts communicating with her family. Mena Suvari plays Angela, Janie's best friend, Lester's crush, and a girl who is clearly insecure despite her attempts at showing her sexy side to every guy in town. Wes Bentley plays Ricky, the next door neighbor boy who looks at something as simple as a bag being tossed in the wind as something beautiful. Some say that this was a very stupid scene, but I disagree. His dialog was perfect and made us look twice at something so simple. He won most of our hearts despite having somewhat of an arrogant attitude. Wes without a doubt got robbed of a nomination for this movie. Chris Cooper plays Ricky's father, Col. Frank Fits. He is a military Sergent who is very abusive to his wife and son and is an obvious homophobic that turns into an ironic situation in the end. Chris also should've been nominated.

The most stunning character actually to me was Allison Janney who played Barbara Fits, Ricky's mom, and Frank's wife. She was so beautiful and perfect. Her scene in the front room with Frank and Ricky, everything is so quite, and she says "I'm sorry, what?". Ricky says "Mom, no one said anything". When Ricky gets kicked out by Frank after a horrible accusation, Ricky says "Mom, I'm leaving". Instead of being like the average mom and trying to stop him or say things will get better, she knows this is best and says "OK. Wear a raincoat". Allison was just amazing and didn't get enough credit for her role.

If there could have been nominations for every role in this movie, they were well deserved. This is a terrific movie that should be watched by every adult. It'll make you look again at your life and think. What a great movie.

10/10
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10/10
Close To Perfection
uhmartinez-phd12 November 2007
The intention is so clear that everything else falls into place, perfectly. Kevin Spacey's suburban husband and father reminded me of his character in "The Ref" and that could only be a good thing. Annette Bening and her giggle works wonders here. Their marriage is a tabloid version of a "Who's Afraid To Virginia Woolf" Which means very close to someone we know. The biggest surprises in the film. besides the amazing dexterity of Sam Mendes at his first outing behind the camera, are West Bentley. Chris Cooper, Thora Brch and Allison Janney. As I'm writing this 8 years after its first release, the Oscars and the whole hullabaloo, I'm very surprised that West Bentley hasn't become a major star. He is amazing in "American Beauty" the complexities of his character are based on recognizable human stands, the hardest to face up to and I went where he went. Thora Birch is lovely as the object of his attention and the film, I believe, is here to say.
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Could be the best movie of the year.
Rusty-6116 September 1999
Warning: Spoilers
And there were a lot of great ones this year. I will also say something even (possibly) bolder--that Kevin Spacey gives the performance of his career. And all us movie geeks know that is saying a LOT, given this man's past roles, and his talent. I used to think he was overrated as an actor. Then I figured OK, I see what all the fuss is about. Now, he's up there with my favorite actors of all time, with James Woods, Steve Buscemi, Robert Deniro...probably in the top 5.

I was lucky enough to see a free screening this afternoon and boy, am I glad I had the privilege. In fact, this review might not even be that coherent- it's one of those movies that blows you away so much that you have trouble even putting your feelings into words.

The plotline sounds trite when you first describe it (it did to me when I first heard about it), Spacey plays a man who describes himself as a loser, with Annette Bening as his horrible, shrewish, self-absorbed, pathetic b*tch of a wife. His daughter is not all that likeable either, despite the fact that you can understand why she turned out this way, with her as a mother. Just when you think you've met the most dysfunctional family in the world outside of "Happiness", you find out about the family who just moved in next door. At first, the strange son seems like the most messed-up member of their brood, but after you get to meet his ex-military, abusive, homophobic, terrifying father and his withdrawn, sad, headcase mother, you realize he is the most normal member of the household by far. Then, the filmwriters toss in Kevin Spacey's lustful obsession with his daughter's sexkitten cheerleader friend, which trust me, is a lot more fun, entertaining, and amusing than it sounds when you read about it. Soon, he is having the most entertaining, amusing midlife crisis ever seen in the history of cinema. He just doesn't give a ***k about what he does or says anymore, and you only wish you could get away with doing the things he does.

I found myself laughing out loud in this movie so many times, most of it horrified, amazed laughter at what is happening and the things that are coming out of the character's mouths, especially Spacey's. He had at least a dozen lines that had every member of the audience in hysterics and actual applause and cheers.

I can't say enough good things about this movie. You think, after the first five minutes, that you know how the movie will end. Well, Spacey's opening narrative does give it away, but trust me, the events unfold in a way that you will NEVER see coming. You will swear you can see what a character is going to do next, what violent or self-destructice act they will commit, but you turn out to be wrong.

Without getting too pretentious here, the movie lives up to it's theme/tagline of "...look closer". THe characters are not what they seem, up until the end, and even then they surprise you. At least two characters that you are POSITIVE you have figured out, do or say something that turns all your preconceptions of them upside down, while making your jaw drop, and your heart ache. You will leave the movie with a smile, though, and that is maybe what I expected least of all.

Words just cannot do this movie justice.

See it for yourself.
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Look closer at this dazzling, powerful masterpiece of a drama.
Michael Carruthers6 April 2001
Warning: Spoilers
On a scale of 0 to 100; I gave American Beauty a score of 99.

Wow…no, I mean that. American Beauty is a film that takes my breath away each time I watch it, and every time I do watch it, I notice something newer, something more exciting and something more funny. There is honestly no other movie like this, and if you haven't seen it, there is something donged in your head, and you must do so now.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is in a mid-life crisis, caused by his stressed wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) and rebelling teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). When Lester and Carolyn go watch Jane cheerleading, they meet Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari), and Lester, caught in sudden lust for Angela, decides to change his life. Angela and Jane's friendship is not all it seems, too, because Angela only brags about how many times she's done it with guys and stuff. That doesn't help an already insecure Jane very much but she finds solace in the arms of the next-door-neighbours' son, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). Ricky, himself from a broken home as well, and Jane find they have a lot in common and eventually turn out to be soulmates.

Everything about this film is so darkly clear, it is extremely obvious why the Academy loved it, and it is very obvious to see that I love it. Spacey brings Lester wildly to life in a performance reminiscent of Spacey's acting coach Jack Lemmon. Also on top form is Annette Bening, in an over-controlled performance that is just so instantly loveable. While all the attention went to these performers, it is also Thora Birch (especially), Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley and a quiet Allison Janney that manage to steal the show just as much. Sam Mendes is an excellent director, this is his first feature, and he is a British man directing an American-based film! And he won an Oscar for it! That's an amazing achievement, ditto to Alan Ball, who's script is effectively a stunner and an instant winner.

The best film of 1999, the best film of its decade and for now anyways, American Beauty stands tall as the best film ever made.
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LOOK CLOSER at this BEAUTiful AMERICAN film.
Jason Morales4 March 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Sam Mendes' big screen directorial debut will one day be mentioned along with classic greats like Psycho, Vertigo, 2001 and Sunset Blvd., which it cleverly mimics in a certain way. That way, I won't ruin it, if like me, you stayed away from all reviews and talk about American Beauty until you actually saw the movie. To my surprise, I somewhat succeeded. The script, wonderfully written by Alan Ball, who like Mendes is doing his first try in this certain ball park, and hitting a home run. Sorry for the cheesy analogy, but I may talk like that through out this review because this is the kind of movie where words can do no justice and it's almost impossible to translate your feelings into words. A similar experience happened to me earlier this year with Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. But back to American Beauty.

"When You've Got Nothing To Lose, You Might As Well Risk Everything."~Tagline for this film.

That is probably one of the most accurate taglines I've ever read in my life. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey, in what may be the best role of his career, which used to be Swimming With Sharks) is reaching his mid-fourties. Uh-oh, mid-life crisis time, he rarely ever talks to his daughter (Thora Birch) whose feelings for him, border on hate. He and his wife Carolyn, (Annette Benning, being able to make me forget about In Dreams) constantly bicker and the whole Burnham family quietly sit at the dinner table except for the occasional quibble about this or that, for instance ("Mom, why do we have to listen to this elevator music?") The new next door neighbors, the Fitts, move in one day. Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper, giving one of the finest supporting character performances this year), is a hard-core Army officer. (Every six months, he makes his son Ricky take a urine test to make sure he's not on drugs.) His idea of fun is sitting in front of the t.v. at night with his wife (Allison Janney) watching shows of Army Cadets training. Ricky Fitts is a hopeless optimistic. He is what Dawson (from the Creek) wishes he could be. Ricky walks around everywhere with his hand held camcorder (while selling dope of the side) filming all the beauty in the world. ("Sometimes, there's so much beauty in the world that it overwhelms me and my heart feels like it's going to cave in). He finds a new subject to add to his beauty collection of film. Lester's daughter, Janey. At first she doesn't like his new interest in her and thinks he's weird, but as the film progresses, they get to know each other and she starts to understand Ricky, and instead of thinking he's weird, thinking he's special. Special in being able to find beauty in the most minor and trivial things you can think of. ("Would you like to see the most beautiful thing I've ever filmed?" That turns out to be a 15 minute shot of a plastic bag flying in the wind, right before it snows.) One night, Carolyn, in an effort to help Lester save his relationship with Janey, (although, it could be her trying to save her own relationship with her daughter) makes Lester go with her to a basketball game at Janey's high school, where she cheerleads. Lester meets Janey's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari, in an interesting turn from Choir Girl in American Pie). Angela sets something off inside Lester and wakes him up from his 20 year sleep and makes him start changing and living life to the fullest. ("I feel like I've been in a coma for the past 20 years and am just beginning to wake up). Although this is work of an ensemble cast, this is really Spacey's forum. The acting throughout this film is remarkable. Newcomer Wes Bently was excellent as the outcast Ricky, who came off as shy, yet confident. The cinematography in this film is majestically beautiful, in every frame, it's almost as if you're invited right into the scene. For instance, in one scene when Spacey came home from a cocktail party with Benning, he was in the refrigerator getting a root beer and out popped Suvari, I was so entranced into that scene, that I actually felt Spacey's startle when he saw her. This movie could be categorized as a drama, although throughout the movie, I had a smile on my face. I got to know these characters, almost as if, as friends. In a gossipy kind of way, I couldn't wait to see what happened next because this film was a look behind the scenes of real suburban life. These people portrayed, really do exist in the world. Somewhat like the people in Happiness, the people and what they do are just like things families you know do, or even your family does. The last scene of this film is amazing. Although it starts too early, way before it's ready to, it pays off at the end. With tensions building, and emotions rising, the inevitable climax will leave you breathless while making you wish it wouldn't happen and that somehow it would change. There is so much more to say about this movie, and so much left out, but I can't help it. Sam Mendes' American Beauty is an instant masterpiece, as Lester says in the movie, "You have no idea what i'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry..... You will someday." I believe those are words to live by for explaining the brilliance of this film even though critics and audiences love it now, it won't truly be appreciated until after it's time.
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10/10
The Beautiful Truth
WiseFool2 November 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This is a profound movie that examines ordinary people. For all their flaws people are basically beautiful and that is one of the many threads of the fabric of this film. I liked that it was revealed at the start of the film that Lester would soon meet his demise. And I also liked at the ending, the identity of the person who took his life didn't really matter, just the sadness of the loss of his life. 'Look Closer' was the theme of this movie and Lester even had this motto in his cubical. Kevin assumed the persona of Lester with a range of acting that is quite worthy of awards. Bening inhabited Carolyn in much the same way. Which one of us hasn't experienced the disillusionment of our teenage years, only to later re-experienced it again through our children. And like Carolyn, who among us has not been intensely disappointed with ourself at some point? That one scene was amazing, it looked so real that it transcended acting. And can a movie actually move beyond entertainment by causing more than absorbing discussion, but real change in it's audience? Perhaps. But if this is true, then that movie would be American Beauty. And for those who feel this movie doesn't achieve this lofty accolade. To them I say, "Never underestimate the power of denial." A ten, of course.
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10/10
Look Closer...
Pulpthatsfiction12 November 2007
The first time I heard about this movie I thought it was this movie and about a man with cancer and then read a lot of good things about and then say some trailers and then I saw it. At first I did not like this movie but than say it again on T.V and then loved it ever since. This is one of the most original films I have ever seen. The performances are one of the best and more Oscars should have been handed out. The directing by Sam Mendes is superb and I'm glad that he won the Oscar. Alan Ball wrote one of the best screenplay and story's ever thought and there's a reason why he won the Oscar and most deserving. This is the Best of the 1990's and that decade had a lot of great movies came out( Goodfellas, L.A Confedintil, Pulp Fiction to name a few). This was the first movie that I saw that was perfect and I had to see it over and over so I can just uncover everything that was in this movie. This movie is in my top ten movies of all time and I'm glad that it's rank number 35 and that one of the reason why I joined this because it was the only website people respect my opinions and agreed with me. Keven Spacey gives his best performance and one of the best of time. Spacey brings a great performance for a really deep and is just a great character. Annette Bening does a great and for some reason missed the Oscar. Chris Copper does a great job and didn't get notice that much, also did Wes Bentley, Mena Suvari and thora Birch did a great job and should have more notice. Sam Mendes does a great directing job and is one the best film debut ever. This film was one the best ever made and should be seen by everyone hows looking for great movie or how just want have fun watching a movie.
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Spec-TAC-u-LAR!
Benedict_Cumberbatch27 November 2007
Okay, so I don't think there's much left to be said about this masterpiece. "American Beauty" is one of those rare instant classics, a landmark of the 90's and one of the best debut features ever (which is both a blessing and a curse for a director - let's hope Sam Mendes doesn't end up like Orson Welles).

This bittersweet tale of ordinary suburban lives about an average husband (Kevin Spacey), his ambitious wife (Annette Bening), their unhappy only child (Thora Birch), the weirdo next door (Wes Bentley), his severe father (Chris Cooper), his catatonic mother (Allison Janney) and a certain blonde cheerleader (Mena Suvari), reaches a heavenly level of authenticity and poignancy thanks to a witty, pitch-perfect script (by Alan Ball, who would later create the brilliant TV series "Six Feet Under"), a wonderful cast (Spacey and Cooper, especially), Mendes's sensible directing, Conrad L. Hall's beautiful cinematography and Thomas Newman's unforgettable score (which has been copied ad nauseam since then, by the way).

"American Beauty" is as thought-provoking and sad as it is, in a weird way, uplifting. To realize the mediocrity in your life; to try to change it or let it be, that's the question. Whichever's your choice, there'll be a high price to pay; thus, no one's a complete hero or villain in this story. Lack of communication, character flaws and hypocrisy all add up to what happens to these people; we feel bad for them, despise them, and root for them, for they all ring so true. That's because they're real, and great writers like Ball have a special talent to expose the good, the bad and the ugly in human nature.

My only "problem" with this film is that it came out in 1999 (one of the greatest years for films, ever), just like my all-time favourite, "Magnolia", which was almost completely snubbed by the Academy (which gave "American Beauty" 5 Oscars, including Best Picture and Director). Naturally, I'd have liked "Magnolia" to win, but AB is a more than acceptable replacement since the Academy actually awarded a great film that year. "American Beauty", even without being the best film of its year, still manages to be a masterpiece.

"It's just a couch!", Lester (Spacey) yells in one scene. "This isn't life, it's just stuff. And it's become more important to you than living. Well, honey, that's just nuts".

And isn't he right?

...look closer. 10/10.
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1/10
The zenith of self-consciously pseudo-profound inanity!
sosodop14 January 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Someone put it best in one of the reviews I read earlier: This movie is exactly the result of people trying to make a so-called art movie and still win the best picture oscar. American Beauty shamelessly trots out every imaginable convention of what an art movie is and then glosses it over with cute shooting, a relatively short run time and face pace. It says virtually nothing about any of the supposedly unusual or profound content that ostensibly is its subject matter. Apparently issues of would-be gravity making cameo apperaances constitutes a profound social comment. It is a great jumble of clichés (spoilers here maybe): The neurotic wife, the homophobic army man (That he turns out to be gay is not of any consequence since anything serious is not given attention in the film, it is a cute afterthought. Though it would be a serious point if this movie had anything to do with reality)The white collar dick with a mid-life crisis, the artist who sees beauty where no one else can, the pretending promiscuous cheerleader. Are there any characters that aren't stock? I cant believe anyone commented that this is in any way realistic. This is not a portrayal of of American life. In reality the teenager with an abusive psychotic homicidal father does not have 40,000$ and cannot conveniently run away to his friends in NYC. The middle-aged man unjustly fired from his job does not conveniently have information he can use to blackmail his bosses for 60,000$ and live happily ever after. Living in a duplex as a teenager is nothing resembling duress; that would be living on less that one U.S. dollar a day as millions of people do. This could easily qualify as propaganda: When you are rich you dont have to worry, your problem is only that you are not looking "beneath the surface" to see the true hedonistic beauty that life is really made of. Well I agree that this beauty does exist. Unfortunately though I am going to burst the bubble of one of the supposedly most profound scenes in the movie: The plastic bag. Look closer, they say, and you will see the beauty in reality. Yes! but this is not reality! Plastic Bags do not blow in circles for 15 minutes. That scene could practically never have occurred in nature; Im sorry I did look closer and it was so obviously being manipulated off camera that it was absurd. That sums up the movie fairly: Look at what we call beauty, we say it is natural but we are really manipulating it. If wind machines (or whatever they are technically called) are really the wind then this movie is really based in reality. Sam Mendes and Alan (whatever his last name is, the writer) are daring the viewer to be as dumb and gullible as they hope they can be. And to my amazement they succeed. If we throw together a whole bunch of artistic clichés and it doesnt make sense to you then you are dumb. Anyone who has a modicum of sanity and any concept of criticism has seen this movie as the charade it is and I stand firmly in their camp. I literally exclaimed out loud (though I was by myself) "What the F**k??!!" at the beginning when Kevin Spacey says "In a way I am already dying (paraphrased)". It is the zenith of self-consciously pseudo-profound inanity.

Disclaimer for the inflammatory nature of this post: This is really just intended to be a rant as I am insensed at how many people cant see this movie for what it really is. I am not trying to analyze this movie in a deliberate or cogent way. If any wants me to argue more clearly then email me. And you will get a more thoughtful earful than this.
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1/10
A movie that embraces the worst in humanity
drinkingturtle20 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I HATED this movie. I hated everything about it.

Oh, look at me, I'm an armchair-existentialist. I hate my crummy boring life. I hate my job. I hate my wife. I am such a pathetic loser. Gee, I'm going to lose my job. Oh woe is me! Oh, wait, here's something interesting - a teenage girl! And what's this? Marijuana! Hey great! Now I'm a middle-aged go-nowhere jobless pothead fantasizing about having sex with teenagers. Oh yes, THIS is the life. THIS is the epitome of "BEING ALIVE!" I have truly found the meaning of life.

Whoa, check out that piece of garbage! It's like, totally floating in the wind. This is the greatest thing ever. Nevermind man's great achievements - never mind the symphony. Nevermind great architecture. Nevermind medicine and technology. Nevermind invention. Nevermind conquering the land, the sea, the mountains, the valleys, the depths of the oceans, the vasts of space. What's truly wonderful is trash in the wind.

You see, TRUE beauty is in mediocrity. Wait.. wait... no that doesn't sound right. Instead, let's call it "simplicity". That's better. Yes, worship the... *ahem* the simplicity of nature. Worship trash, not greatness. Worship drug abuse, not working. Worship laziness and prurient interests, not ambition and tenacity.

"I guess I could be pretty -expletive- off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world." Or, in simpler terms, it's easy to convince yourself of your own self-worth when you place value on common garbage. Why? Because when you say that garbage is beautiful, looking at yourself in comparison isn't so bad. Yay, I feel so much better about myself now that I'm living under this bong-clouded delusion. Apathy doesn't seem so apathetic when you've devalued everything! This was a story about a loser, who KNEW he was a loser, but rather than do anything about it, he instead deluded himself into believing that he was something more BY LOWERING HIS STANDARD OF JUDGMENT. No different than if he were a C student in school that made himself feel better by saying that C's are the same thing as A's. It's nonsense. It's utter nonsense.

American Beauty is horrible. It is, without a doubt, one of the single worst stories ever written. You want to know why? You want to know what is so utterly messed up about the principle it espouses? When you place value on garbage, when you find "beauty" in everything, BEAUTY LOSES ITS MEANING. When EVERYTHING is beautiful, NOTHING is. And you know what happens then? Congratulations - you've killed man's sense of values. You've killed his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it.

If you set up standards of achievement open to all, to the least, to the most inept - you stop the impetus to effort in all men, great or small. You stop all incentive to improvement, to excellence, to perfection.

And that's EXACTLY what happened to the "protaganist" (although it makes me want to spit acid to even call him that) in American Beauty. That movie worships the exact thing that it was - trash.
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1/10
The greatest trick Kevin Spacey ever pulled...
Oro-Indiano24 February 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Kevin Spacey is a genius, or at least a veritable magician. A couple of the folks with whom I saw "American Beauty" said afterwards: "It was great - Spacey was incredible." His performance, it seems, is enough to have convinced people that they had just watched a decent movie, even though there is little else to recommend the film. The other significant plus is the advertising campaign - marketing it as "a funny drama" and "a moving comedy" is an ingenious way of disguising the fact that it is neither. Since there are only two or three really good laughs in the piece it isn't really funny enough to be a comedy (but since it's written by someone who used to work on "Cybill", that's hardly a surprise) and since it only gets vaguely dramatic towards the end, it doesn't maintain the atmosphere of a "drama". But the audience happily accepts this schizophrenic mess because the adverts told them to. The adverts also told them to "Look closer". Again, this is a tip-top marketing ploy, since it implies hidden depth, significance and meaning, without the content actually being there. The average audience member is going to think "Wow, that plastic bag blowing around must be really poignant, because this is a DEEP movie." Heaven forbid that they should actually think for themselves. Look closer, indeed.

What then, of the characters? Well, what characters? Every one on display here is little more than a stereotype, from fortysomething midlife crisis guy, to the uptight career-driven wife, to their moody teenage daughter to the moody teenage boy, to the homophobic soldier who - gasp - turns out to be gay, etc etc etc. Take the gay couple across the street, for example. They are only around for two or three scenes, and only then to provoke some more bigotry from Lieutenant Colonel Asskicker. They might as well have been two cardboard cut outs labelled "Gay" for all that they were able to develop. I know they are only supporting characters, but if you're going to do a movie which tackles the issue of homosexuality, you could at least have some believable homosexual characters in it, rather than 2-D cliches.

This is indicative of the whole, ghastly, contrived nature of this film. Characters don't feel like characters because they don't behave in an even remotely plausible manner, they don't behave consistently, and they seem to stumble through from one set-piece to the next. For example, Spacey getting a job at Happy Burgers; sure, that's amusing, but the whole thing is engineered just so he can catch his wife out, and then it's dropped. It doesn't fit in with any discernible character arc, but is simply contrived to get a cheap laugh. What about Ricky Fitts at the beginning? You've just moved into a new neighbourhood, you sell drugs but you have an incredibly strict father, and you notice your new next door neighbour at a party. Do you A) introduce yourself, chat to the guy, find out if he's the sort who will report you to the police etc. before making your move or B) march right up and offer the dope to him there and then because it expedites the action? Or how about the daughter's friend towards the end of the movie. You're 16 years old, you've just had a blazing row with your best friend, and your car is parked outside. Do you A) run off, leave the house asap, and drive straight home, or B) slink off downstairs and hang around interminably just in case Kevin Spacey shows up to carry out his perverted, sub-Lolita fantasy? I could go on all day...

The direction is, dare I say it, directionless. Sam Mendes should stick to his so-called risque theatre productions at the Donmar Warehouse. His debut film, as I have intimated, reeks of incoherence. In addition to the tonal uncertainty, there is no clear directorial vision. The only memorable images are borrowed from "Blue Velvet" and "Lolita", the rest of the time it seems to be left to the cast to try to carry the picture, whether through Bening's OTT hyperactivity or Wes Bentley understatement. When you look at "The Straight Story", or "The Insider", or even "The Sixth Sense", it galls me to think that this has been nominated for Best Direction...

That this movie is so highly rated by critics, IMDb users, and Oscar personnel, is a great shame, because ultimately its success is a testament to people's stupidity. A (substantial) crowd of non-thinking buffoons, easily satisfied by the occasional cheap laugh and a couple of relatively strong performances have been sold a complete lemon. This film is not deep. There is no coherent philosophical notion of either truth or beauty evident. A few shots of Ricky Fitts looking sullen and waving his camcorder around do not, I'm afraid, amount to a radical thesis on the nature of the world. And nothing can get over the contrived, episodic nature of this D-grade screenplay.

Someone earlier on this comments page claimed that they could not like anyone who didn't love "American Beauty", for it would mean that they have no soul. Well babe, by the same token, I will proudly say that anyone who does like this movie can't be my friend, because they clearly have no brain. Look closer everyone, I implore you. Frankly, "American Pie" is a more profound movie. Dump this rubbish and go and see "The Insider". Think for yourself, if you're able...

My rating: 3 (/10)
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1/10
Look closer...oops! Too close!
C-1718 October 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This piece of sitcommy, cliche-ridden claptrap is just smart enough on its surface for the middlebrow Academy to pimp it for a Best Picture Oscar. But anyone with half a brain will see through this tired male fantasy pretty soon. Mendes shows us a Edward Scissorhands-type of suburbia: perfect lawns, identical homes, etc... We are expected to know (since we've seen ES, Ice Storm, Happiness, Serial Mom, etc.) that these people must lead shallow, empty lives - look where they live! And... they do! This is just the first of many obvious themes that we have seen so many times before. And we haven't even reached Spacey's character's midlife crisis yet. (Surprise! He falls in sexual lust with a gorgeous high-school blonde. Sooooo subversive! Look closer, and you'll find even more cliches.) Spacey's wife is, predictably, a self-centered shrew who won't satisfy him sexually but cooks delicious nutritious dinners and sells (surprise) real estate. His daughter is a misfit (wow!) with whom he can't connect. The new kid on the block (of course there is one) is a weird, sensitive (but handsome) loner type (shocker) who (believe it or not) falls for Spacey's moody daughter. Don;t even ask about the gay neighbors. Mendes does nothing but condescend to his characters, his setting, and above all, the audience. Positives: Thora Birch is terrific and lovely; Mena Suvari is breathtakingly beautiful, and the plastic bag sequence is affecting. Pretentious c***.
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1/10
Everything that's wrong with Hollywood, distilled into two horrible hours. Spoilers.
Brundledan3 April 2000
Warning: Spoilers
Now, let me see if I've gotten this straight: "Saving Private Ryan", an epic tale of honor, glory, and sacrifice set against the backdrop of what was possibly the most important single day of the Twentieth Century, was not worthy of the Best Picture Oscar.

However, "American Beauty", a movie whose heroes are a middle-aged pedophile who casually endangers the future of his family, and the next-door drug dealer who finds "beauty" in people getting their brains blown out, is.

I see.

"American Beauty" might work as satire if 1.) it weren't telling us something we've KNOWN for fifty years - that the suburbs are not this perfect, "Ozzie and Harriet" world of smiling, white-bread people - and 2.) if the characters depicted in the movie were in any way REALISTIC. Instead, "American Beauty" is a parade of the most tiresome Hollywood cliches of the 1990s. I don't care how pathetic Spacey's and Bening's characters' lives are - would they really be THAT devoid of any redeeming values? Are we supposed to CHEER Spacey as he quits his job, smokes pot, and lusts after seventeen year-old girls, all to the detriment of his young daughter? Are we supposed to laugh at the ex-Marine's idea that the world NEEDS certain rules and standards in order to work? Clearly, we are. These are not characters at all, but ciphers. Indeed, the ex-Marine is one of the most laughable ciphers at all. He is the parody of the Evil Gun-Toting Gay-Bashing Right-Wing Military Nut, taken to its furthest extreme. As columnist John Leo recently put it, "the only thing they forgot to do was to make him a tobacco company chemist and a trustee of a segregated college." And the final revelation that the "gay-basher" is in fact gay himself is the final piece of this Hollywood stereotype; a move meant purely to make sure this character and his world-view, that of the importance of morality and of the necessity of rules in society, is completely discredited.

And I know, I know: I'm not reading between the lines. I need to "look closer". Well, I submit that those who glowingly praise this movie are looking TOO closely. It's easier to lose sight of the larger message a movie sends when you examine any one element too closely. And all that the people who made this movie have "proved" is that they live on an entirely different planet from the hard-working, Joe and Jane America they claim to so brilliantly "expose" - the same Joe and Jane America that keeps Hollywood in business.

(Ordinarily, I'd rate a movie like "American Beauty" about a "3". But since it was without question both the most offensive AND the most overrated movie of 1999 (move over, "The Phantom Menace"), and since more needs to be done to counterbalance these morons who think it's the next "Citizen Kane", I feel I have no choice but to go with my original gut instinct and give it a big fat "1". For years, I've made it a practice to save every ticket stub from every movie I've seen, regardless of its quality. Nevertheless, my "American Beauty" ticket stub now sits in torn-up shreds at the bottom of the concession-area garbage can. It seemed a fitting gesture toward this Oscar-winning piece of putrescent pap.)
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6/10
The closer I look, the worse it gets
andrew75 February 2002
I first saw this in theaters back in 1999. I loved it. I really really loved it. I've seen it four or five times since, and each time, I like it less. I just saw it again a couple of days ago, and I stopped it before it was over. At that moment, I decided to sell my DVD. It has now been excised from my DVD Collection, about which I have considerable pride.

The main reason is that I have come to feel very strongly that this film doesn't know what it wants to say. It takes a bunch of characters, constructs various relationships between them, and sets them loose to run around for two hours, at the end of which, what have we learned?

I've heard lots of people make comparisons between this film and another highly acclaimed movie of 1999 which I hate: Fight Club. Both films include philosophically flimsy but highly entertaining critiques of materialism. With Fight Club, the critique on materialism is made by the character who turns out to be the villain of the piece, who seeks to replace it with fascism. In American Beauty, the anti-consumerist is, first of all, a total hypocrite, and second of all, has a life changing epiphany the moment before his death, but never gets a chance to expound upon what that epiphany was.

On the hypocrisy charge, consider the oft-quoted scene when Lester Burnham (magnificently portrayed by Kevin Spacey) yells at his wife Carolyn (played in an over-the-top caricature by Annette Bening) for placing too high a value on material things, in this case, a sofa. Fine. He makes a good point. No one else seems to have noticed, however, that this is precisely the same scene where it is revealed that Lester has bought a 1970 Pontiac Firebird. Since we at no time see Lester enjoying the use of his car, the implication is that possession of the object is a good in itself, which is the very apex of materialism.

There are lots of other things that we don't see, and I never noticed until I "looked closer" how conspicuous they are in their absence. We never see Angela or Jane don a cheerleading uniform after their initial cheerleading scene. They never make any reference to being cheerleaders. The whole concept of cheerleading, then, is merely a mechanism (and quite a contrived, not to mention cliched mechanism at that) to introduce Lester to Angela.

I also noticed, when I looked closer, how painfully bad much of the dialogue given to the younger characters is. "Lame-o" "Geekboy" "Take a whizz" It's just horrid. And why, exactly, was Jane looking at a breast augmentation website? First of all, her breasts don't appear to need augmenting (when I saw this in theaters, I thought she must want to reduce her breasts, but upon looking closer, the computer monitor clearly says "augmentation", which means a process of adding to).

The worst flaw of the film, by far, is the fact that we have one horrible cliche repeated twice in the space of minutes in the final act. The homophobic marine turns out to be a repressed homosexual, and the slutty cheerleader turns out to be a virgin. For the love of God, who let those two howlers slip through. Bad enough that either made the final cut, but both?!! It defies understanding.

The scene that made me turn the film off, this final time that I watched it, was the scene were Jane and Ricky decide to run off together. I was never very comfortable with this scene, because, call me conservative, I'm just not thrilled about a girl dropping out of school at the tender age of seventeen (or so) and running off with her drug dealer boyfriend. But what really got my goat was when Ricky ridiculed Angela by calling her ordinary. Fair enough, Angela had it coming. But for Ricky to not only accept Angela's principle that ordinariness is bad, but to use it against her... that bothered me. Ordinariness or lack thereof is not a valid criterion for judging the worth of a human being. Ricky, having been set up (clumsily) as a heroic character, shouldn't have descended to such a twisted and hateful principle.

The whole film has the feel of having been made up as it went along. It is radically different from how it was originally planned to go. The prelude sequence and the scene later in the film which it foreshadowed have become utterly pointless since the removal of the subplot about Jane and Ricky being blamed for Lester's murder. Now, that subplot is a bit ridiculous, and was cut for a good reason, I agree. But why leave the set up if you're cutting the payoff? [Notice that Ricky shuts off the camera before Jane says "You know I'm joking, right?"]

The sequence where Col. Fitts spies on Ricky and Lester is straight out of "Three's Company." Fitts sees just enough to draw the conclusion that the writer wants him to draw, and nothing else. That's a classic example (and the most blatant I can recall from any film) of bad, contrived plotting. What exactly was up with Mrs. Fitts? Presumably, her scenes meant something in some previous, unreleased version of the story. The initial meeting between Lester and Ricky is built on numerous coincidences... Ricky just happens to be working there, and he works there just long enough to meet Lester!!! And what self-respecting drug dealer would give a man $2,000 worth of merchandise on the assumption that he'd be willing/able to pay for it later? It would have been more contrived if Lester happened to have $2,000 in cash while jogging, but "I know you're good for it" isn't much better.

This film is ambitious. There are lots of individual pieces of greatness in it. There are a lot of really good ideas. But on a fundamental level, it just doesn't work.
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10/10
My Favorite Film From the 90s
G_a_l_i_n_a21 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
American Beauty is a "love it" or "hate it" film, and you never know if it has more 'love it' or 'hate it' viewers. Personally, I love it -from the first sight, from the last sight, from the eternal sight. It is my favorite film of the 90s, one of my personal twenty favorites ever. I think that American Beauty is an instant classic, and it will stay that way as long as people watch movies.

The film is deep, dark, and tragic. The title is American Beauty but it is more like Universal Sadness. It is not about superheroes - it is about very flawed, tired, and shallow people – but just as the tag line says – one must look closer.

I live in a town like the one in American Beauty too - nice houses, brick, vinyl, neatly cut grass and flowers. "The air is fresh and sweet like a child's kiss". I jog in the mornings or in the evenings and people often sit on their porches or water their lawns or jog just as I do. We always smile at each other and say "Hi, how are you?" I always think to myself - what goes on beyond the closed doors of these people that I see? They could be happy with their families and with their jobs. They do look happy. Or, they may be tired and disappointed with their lives, trying to do something to change it - or just letting the days pass by.

Leo Tolstoy opened his novel Anna Karenina with the words, "All happy families are happy in the same way; each unhappy family is unique in its unhappiness". That's why it is much more interesting for me to try and understand each unhappy family – why did it happen? The family in American Beauty used to be happy - there is even proof - the photograph with three of them, happy, laughing. Where did it go? When? Why? When was the moment in time when two loving people became strangers and prisoners in their own nice house with the beautiful roses outside? These are the questions I kept thinking about when I saw AB for the first time, and I still can not find the answers. Can something be changed? How? What do you do to wake up from the lethargic dream that your life has become? How do you reach the people who are the closest to you? What the hell do you need a $3000 couch for if you can not make love to your wife on it? What is the purpose of material possessions if they become more important than the smile of your daughter? When did you start to think that giving your children the best toys possible would substitute for a talk, for a sincere and honest interest as to what they really worry about? I did not find American Beauty patronizing and simplistic - it asks difficult questions but does not provide you with any easy answers. I still look for those answers. I don't blame the movie for imperfection of its characters - I know they do exist. We don't like them - but can one be mad when looking in the mirror? I want to add a couple of words about Spacey's character, Lester Burnham (BTW, Spacey may stop acting right now, and he probably should after all the flops he has produced since AB, but he will always be remembered for Lester). Lester could say about himself what another flawed but unforgettable character did 25 years before him: "Well, I tried, didn't I? Goddamnit, at least I did that." Lester Burnham died a happy man; the last words he heard in his life were that his daughter was in love - it meant for him that she could feel, that she was alive because love changes us and makes us better. His last sight was that of a picture where happiness and joy were captured forever. In death, he had at last captured that for which he had longed for the most in life – happiness.

He died a happy man - not many do.
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